Once upon a time there was a glorious Chevrolet ZR2 compact truck

Those who saw the meteoric rise of off-road vehicles through the 2010s and beyond, likely associate the ZR2 badge with the Chevrolet Colorado. THE Colorado ZR2 was Chevrolet’s Halo midsize truck when it was released in 2016, but the ZR2 badge goes all the way to the 1990s when Chevrolet made the S-10 ZR2. It’s terrible.

When Chevrolet introduced the second-generation S-10 in 1994, it also added the ZR2 package to its compact truck lineup, available with a Vortec inline-four or V6. The package took the smaller S-10 and gave it three inches of lift, an increased track width of four inches, and added fender flares to accommodate the wider stance. The S-10 ZR2 also had Bilstein suspension and an Eaton rear trunk, and rode on 31-inch all-terrain tires.

Advertisement for 1994 Chevrolet S series ZR2 truck

Of course, the original Chevrolet ZR2 didn’t have the Multimatic DSSV shocks of the later truck. When the Colorado borrowed the ZR2 badge from its predecessor in 2016, Chevrolet wanted the new model to stand out among midsizes with a suspension unlike any other truck. The spool dampers of Formula 1 fame set the ZR2 apart from competitors, such as the Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma and Ford Ranger.

Even though the revived ZR2 was never a direct competitor to the Ford F-150 Raptor, it rotated in an orbit similar to that of the full-size Ford; both were meant to be radically capable off-road machines. The big differences were in their size – the Raptor being a full-size, four-door truck – and their suspension systems.

The Raptor had internal bypass shocks with external reservoirs; The Colorado ZR2, on the other hand, was a mid-size truck with spool shocks. This meant it was lighter and smaller than the F-150 Raptor, giving it an advantage off-road. The updated Colorado ZR2 was even available as an extended cab model like the S-10 before it, but you don’t see many of those. It’s really a shame.

Photo: Chevrolet

The S-10 still outperforms the Colorado in terms of configurations as the S-10 ZR2 was available in either single cabin or one extended cabin. Both versions had the same wider and taller stance, but the single cabin looked objectively cooler, no doubts or buts about it.

Of course, the Chevrolet S-10 gave way to the midsize Colorado, and the ZR2 followed the same progression as every other truck: getting bigger and gaining a set of doors. The latest generation of the Colorado ZR2 is even bigger and more efficient. But for a while, from 1994 to 2003, we were able to get a real compact ZR2 from Chevrolet, an honest little truck built specifically for off-roading by an American automaker.

Rear 3/4 view of a black Chevrolet S-10 ZR2 pickup

Photo: Chevrolet

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